Critikid Logo

The Power of “I Don't Know” in Education

As a science teacher, I love to encourage my students to ask questions, and I very much enjoy hearing all the imaginative questions they come up with. Their questions can be so obscure, specific, or random that I often have to respond with, “I don’t know.” As adults, we must not be embarrassed to say this to children. Used correctly, this phrase can be a powerful educational tool, for several reasons.

Young man shrugging to show that he does not know something

1. Saying “I don’t know” teaches children what it means to be an adult.

Many young (and even not-so-young) adults claim they feel like they’re not “real adults”.

I suspect at least part of the reason for this is that as children, many of us had an illusion of adults being all-knowing and in control. When we grew up, we didn’t become that illusion, hence the strange feeling of not having grown up.

When we say, “I don’t know” to children, we show them that even adults don’t know everything. It’s important for children to learn that even people in positions of authority have limitations.

Recently, a student asked me, “How long does it take a liver cell to divide?” When I told him I didn’t know, he said, “But aren’t you a science teacher?” He expected that, because of my job and position of authority, I should know everything related to science. I explained to him that there’s a vast amount of knowledge in the world, and even teachers can’t know everything.

However, I didn’t stop the conversation at “I don’t know.” This brings me to the next point.

Cells dividing

2. Saying “I don’t know” provides an opportunity to teach children research skills.

“I don’t know, but let’s see if we can find out.”

Time allowing, this is a fantastic response to questions which you do not know the answer. This is a perfect way to teach a child how to identify credible sources on the internet as you try to find the answer together.
In some cases, you can’t find the answer. But this is not a problem, because...

3. Saying “I don’t know” instills a sense of wonder and curiosity in children.

“How did life on Earth start?” "Why does anything exist at all?"

Once in a while, students ask me questions which are still unanswered. In these cases, I can teach them about some competing hypotheses. But I love to add, “There are still many mysteries out there waiting to be solved.” This gets kids excited about science, learning, and discovery. After all, the world is more wondrous if we don’t have all the answers!


Courses

Fallacy Detectors Part 1

Develop the skills to tackle logical fallacies through a series of 10 science-fiction videos with activities. Recommended for ages 8-12.

US$15

Symbolic Logic for Teens Part 1

Learn how to make sense of complicated arguments with 14 video lessons and activities. Recommended for ages 13 and up.

US$15

Worksheets

Symbolic Logic Worksheets icon

Symbolic Logic Worksheets

Worksheets covering the basics of symbolic logic for children ages 12 and up.

US$5

Elementary School Worksheets and Lesson Plans icon

Elementary School Worksheets and Lesson Plans

These lesson plans and worksheets teach students in grades 2-5 about superstitions, different perspectives, facts and opinions, the false dilemma fallacy, and probability.

US$10

Middle School Worksheets and Lesson Plans icon

Middle School Worksheets and Lesson Plans

These lesson plans and worksheets teach students in grades 5-8 about false memories, confirmation bias, Occam's razor, the strawman fallacy, and pareidolia.

US$10

High School Worksheets and Lesson Plans icon

High School Worksheets and Lesson Plans

These lesson plans and worksheets teach students in grades 8-12 about critical thinking, the appeal to nature fallacy, correlation versus causation, the placebo effect, and weasel words.

US$10

Statistical Shenanigans Worksheets and Lesson Plans icon

Statistical Shenanigans Worksheets and Lesson Plans

These lesson plans and worksheets teach students in grades 9 and up the statistical principles they need to analyze data rationally.

US$10